Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Dolemite Is My Name, or: Lady in Reed

Not going to lie, I intended to keep the sad vibes going this week with Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale, but our pick for the week by no means feels like sloppy seconds. Rather than a serious drama of revenge in the Tasmanian wilderness, this week takes us on a decidedly more fun journey to 1970s Los Angeles.

The Film:

Dolemite Is My Name

The Premise:

This biopic follows comedian and musician Rudy Ray Moore as he struggles to make and release the 1970s Blaxploitation film Dolemite.

The Ramble:

As an aspiring musician and comedian in the 1970s, Rudy Ray Moore has seen better days. His music has gone out of fashion in favor of stars like James Brown, and his one-man-show act isn’t what any of the comedy clubs are looking for. Now working in a record store by day and as an MC by night, Rudy’s career seems truly at a dead end.

However, inspired by the ramblings of a homeless man at the store, Rudy develops a comedy character by the name of Dolemite. Borrowing money from his aunt, Rudy creates a raunchy comedy record deemed too filthy for radio. The record speaks for itself as Rudy makes his rounds across the comedy clubs in L.A. and the South.

While performing comedy, Rudy finds a partner for a double act in the form of Lady Reed, a woman preparing to fistfight with a man at the club. Though Lady Reed has never considered herself a comedian, she has the commanding presence and raunchy sense of humor to make her the perfect partner for Rudy.

It can never be said that Rudy’s dreams are too small; as soon as he’s achieved success in clubs, Rudy is ready to take his character Dolemite to the big screen. With his enthusiasm and charm, Rudy easily recruits a playwright, director, crew, and cast. Never mind that the cinematographers are UCLA film students, many of the actors are strippers with no film experience, and the electricity for their improvised studio fades in and out.

An over-the-top Blaxploitation film, Dolemite promises to deliver an all-girl kung-fu army, a gritty look into the nightclub scene, and a dramatic exorcism, all while addressing themes of urban inequity and drug abuse. Too bad director D’Urville Martin (of Rosemary’s Baby fame) dreams of creating a serious, artistic film rather than the campy mess Rudy envisions. It becomes clear very quickly that Rudy will take nothing seriously, from the kung-fu moves to the silly sex scene.

Eventually, Martin yields to the inevitable and accepts the film will never be as he envisioned it. With filming wrapped, the movie is all set for theatrical release, right? Wrong. After all of his work on the film, Rudy is having trouble drumming up any distributor interest whatsoever; he eventually gives up on the film ever seeing the light of day.

Will Dolemite ever complete its journey to the big screen? (Spoiler/historical fact: yes.)

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

The cast is killer and it’s worth watching the film for the performances alone: Tituss Burgess, Craig Robinson, Wesley Snipes, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Keegan-Michael Key, and Eddie Murphy at the top of his game–still only a fraction of the cast making this film such a fun ride. The dynamic between Murphy and Snipes especially stands out, and I absolutely love Randolph here too.

It doesn’t hurt that the script offers an interesting peek into a little-known true story (or at least not known to me). Like Rudy, the film doesn’t take itself too seriously, but respects and pays tribute to its subject. Perhaps Dolemite was never going to win any Oscars, but it was a real passion project for Rudy and a reflection of a time and place in recent(ish) history. It’s still quite a feat today to find a film with a primarily black cast and creators.

Rounding out the experience are the spot-on ’70s vibes captured here. The attention to period detail (is it odd to you too that this is considered a period piece?) is incredible in terms of the appearance of characters and scenery, as well as the slang and soundtrack we hear. I truly enjoyed (and learned a lot from) this film!

Would my multi-talented blog wife give this one the green light or send it back to the 1970s, white tuxedo and all? Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Tigers Are Not Afraid, or: Feelings Are Very Dead

Watch whatever you want in November, they said. It will be fun, and you will in no way regret the gloomy weather reflecting the dark tone of your films, they said. Well, guess what: this week’s pick for the Collab is incredibly heavy, but (spoiler?), well worth the watch.

The Film:

Tigers Are Not Afraid

The Premise:

A group of children flee the leaders of a violent drug cartel after stealing a phone that stores incriminating information.

The Ramble:

In a small town in Mexico, warring drug cartels have unleashed violence on their enemies and bystanders alike. With classes suspended due to the violence, young Estrella has little to distract her from her mother’s disappearance. Gifted 3 pieces of chalk that will give her 3 wishes, Estrella first requests her mother come back.

Unfortunately, this wish goes badly as Estrella’s mother has died but now haunts her. As she waits in her empty house, a looter breaks into the house to steal anything left of value. The looter is Shine, a child no older than Estrella, advises her to leave as the only people who will return are the members of the Huascas cartel.

Acknowledging that she can’t make it on her own, Estrella tracks down Shine and his crew, a group of orphaned boys living in a makeshift home on the streets. The group is in added danger at the moment as Shine has stolen the gun and phone of one of the Huascas–and there seems to be something on the phone they are none too keen to share on Instagram. After the group is ambushed for the phone, the Huascas abduct the youngest and cutest of the kids.

To prove her trustworthiness and to get their brother back, Shine charges Estrella with taking out Caco, the man who is after them. Though armed with a gun, Estrella is fully prepared to use a wish to kill Caco; as it turns out, neither murder weapon is needed as he has already been shot. Estrella decides there’s no need for the others to know this and fudges the truth just a bit. Either way, the gang is back together again, though with some additional traumatized children stolen by the Huascas.

After Estrella has a dream about a mansion with a swimming pool and soccer field, she insists the group relocate–not least so they can hide from the Huascas. When they break into an abandoned mansion, it seems Estrella was right, and the children can briefly act like children.

However, it’s not long before reality catches up to our group of orphans, and Estrella realizes they will have to take drastic action to escape the Huascas. Calling a truce with leader of the Huascas, Chino, Estrella promises to return the phone as long as the Huascas get off their back.

Is this truce the miraculous answer to their problems the children have waited for?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

Oh, my heart. The story itself is devastating, made even more impactful by its telling through the eyes of children. The members of the Huascas cartel are merciless, interpreting all around them, including children, as either obstacles or products to be used or sold. Through all of this, the children struggle to make sense of the world and find hope despite the relentless terror they live with.

The cartel’s victims as ghosts seeking revenge is effective, and shows the real horror of humanity to be much more disturbing than restless spirits. More chilling is witnessing the children seeing violence on a daily basis and becoming immune to it. They also discuss murder quite casually, both as they see it and commit acts of violence themselves that test their innocence and resilience.

The titular tigers appear throughout the film as a bit of a magic realism, asking the question of what it means to be fierce and what a fighter looks like.

Well worth a watch, but you may need some tissues, comfort chocolate, and/or a fuzzy animal to cuddle.

Would my warrior blog wife give this one a gentle cuddle or a swift slash at the throat? Read her review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Paint It Black, or: Do What You Want, IDK

Sadly, Halloween/horror month is over. What do we do now? As our pick this week demands, we express our deep sadness by painting it all black.

The Film:

Paint It Black

The Premise:

After a young man dies by suicide, his mother and girlfriend spiral into a dysfunctional relationship fueled by guilt.

The Ramble:

Josie is a stressed-out young woman who hasn’t heard from her live-in boyfriend, Michael, for a week. In need of a distraction, Josie goes out for a night of partying with her bestie, complaining about her infuriating boyfriend’s lack of consideration. Oh, how she will regret those complaints.

The next morning, Josie learns from the police that Michael is dead, apparently by suicide. His mother Meredith makes a devastating situation even more painful by calling Josie and bluntly blaming her for Michael’s death. Meredith goes so far as to actually choke Josie at the funeral when she attempts to place a rose on his coffin.

Interspersed throughout the film are tidbits from Josie and Michael’s relationship. The two met when Josie modeled nude for a drawing class Michael, ever the tortured artist, was taking. Michael’s family is R-I-C-H, living in a huge mansion with its own pool courtesy of his mother’s career as a renowned concert pianist.

With nothing to hang onto except her rage, Josie decides to pay Meredith a visit. As it turns out, both now spend the majority of their time drinking and crying. Though the two seem to bond, it seems Meredith isn’t quite through wreaking emotional havoc. Wrangling an invite to see the apartment Michael shared with Josie, she uses the opportunity to reclaim all of his personal effects.

As the relationship between the two women escalates, it seems impossible they will ever accomplish anything beyond hurting each other. When they reach a tentative truce, Meredith opens up and even cares for Josie when she falls ill. However, when Josie begins to recover, she recognizes she can’t stay with Meredith forever.

When Josie makes her next stop the motel where Michael killed himself, will she find the comfort and closure she seeks?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

Mostly because of Alia Shawkat.

Our film tries to be artsy and full of meaning, but it merely scrapes the surface. There are some rather beautifully shot scenes here, but they add little beyond visual interest.

One of the themes driving the plot is the messiness and unpredictability of grief. Josie and Meredith could be natural allies as two women deeply mourning Michael’s death; however, their feelings do not, of course, unfold in any logical way. The oddness and ambiguity of their relationship drives the film, yet it also makes the story unsatisfying and unresolved. And while the grieving process here feels realistic, it doesn’t feel particularly authentic.

Did my blog wife mourn this film’s end or merely the loss of 97 minutes of her life? Find out in her review here!

Book Reviews, books

Checking out the Book: Feminist Edition

This edition of recent library reads is brought to you by strong lady protagonists and characters of color who are not messing around. Pediatricians, mothers, folk healers, mathematicians, and police officers–none of these ladies, real or fictional, are going to take your shit. Here are a few books by and about women I’ve enjoyed lately.

Title

The Tenth Muse

Author

Catherine Chung

Format

Book

Review

As an Asian-American growing up in the 1950s and ’60s, Katherine is an ambitious young woman torn between performing the role expected of her and one that allows her to pursue her passion for math (which I cannot directly relate to). When Katherine enrolls in Master’s and Doctoral programs, she is the only woman in her graduating classes and struggles to find acceptance.

Complicating matters is the revelation that Katherine’s parents have been keeping secrets about her identity, which has a surprising connection to WWII Germany. Accepting a role as a visiting researcher in Germany gives Katherine the opportunity to explore this relationship–though she will certainly learn some dark truths about her family and the mathematicians she idolizes. While the ending feels a bit rushed, Chung tells a unique story that seamlessly blends together themes of family, identity, and the weight of women’s decisions in a world very much tied to patriarchal values.

Title

What the Eyes Don’t See

Author

Mona Hanna-Attisha

Format

eAudioboook

Review

The true story of a whistle blower in the Flint water crisis, Hanna-Attisha’s memoir is compelling in the way all tragedies are. A local pediatrician (who narrates her own book), Hanna-Attisha’s compassion for the children in her care is the force motivating everything she’s done. When she notices high levels of lead in the blood test results of many patients, she refuses to let it go until she’s done absolutely everything she can. But what can a pediatrician do to address crumbling infrastructure, intentional cost-cutting to the detriment of well-being, and governmental commitment to ignore or even cover up the crisis? Quite a lot, actually.

Connecting the story of the Flint water crisis to her experiences growing up as the child of Iraqi immigrants, Hanna-Attisha doesn’t shy away from bringing her personal life into the memoir. As a narrator, her passion for the subject and commitment to serving the families of Flint come through effectively. Though this book haunts my dreams and makes me hesitate whenever I turn on the faucet, it tells an important story and tells it well.

Title

Sabrina & Corina

Author

Kali Fajardo-Anstine

Format

Book

Review

Not going to lie, I picked this one up for the cover, which gave me Frida Kahlo vibes in all of the best ways.

Fajardo-Anstine’s short stories are interested in themes surrounding family relationships: those between siblings, parents and children, large extended families. She explores the role of tradition, Latinx and Native American identities, and the roles of women in community and as individuals.

“Sisters” stands out as an especially heartbreaking tale, as Fajardo-Anstine sets up the events leading to a young woman losing her eyesight. Protagonist Doty lives with her sister in 1950s Colorado, but the two won’t be able to afford this arrangement forever. As the sisters go on a series of double dates, Doty feels the pressure for marriage even as she feels absolutely no attraction to her boyfriend. What options does a single Latinx woman have when she barely makes a living wage?

I also enjoyed the story “Remedies,” which details the brief but significant relationship between the narrator Clarisa and her half-brother. The titular remedies are those Clarisa’s great-grandmother uses to cure everything from a headache to the flu. However, these remedies cannot be used for the persistent head lice that afflict Clarisa and her half-brother Harrison, whom Great-Grandma despises. Clarisa’s unconventional mother works hard to maintain the relationship between the half-siblings, efforts that Clarisa most definitely does not appreciate.

To be honest, though, I can’t think of a single story that wasn’t well-crafted and interested in compelling themes and characters.

Title

Girl Waits with Gun

Author

Amy Stewart

Format

eAudiobook

Review

Constance Kopp, eldest of three sisters who live on a farm in 1910s New Jersey, just wants one thing: for the factory owner who ran into their buggy with his car to pay the money he owes for repairs. Unfortunately, Henry Kaufman, the factory owner in question, is an entitled tool who is disinclined to entertaining the demands of women. Facing threats against her youngest sister, broken windows, and attempted arson (all to avoid a $50 fine), Constance remains steadfast in her commitment to seeing justice done.

Based on a true story, Stewart creates a fun adventure that is meticulously researched; not only are the initial events true, but many of the happenings in the novel are pulled straight from the headlines of the day. Constance went on to become one of the first female deputy sheriffs, and by all accounts was as tough as nails as she is in this telling. The narrator of the audiobook does an admirable job of giving each sister a distinct voice that reflects her character, as well as some memorable scruffy man voices.

What are you reading (or listening to)?

Header photo by Jessica Ruscello on Unsplash

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Wounds, or: Papa Roach

Usually losing a phone means a bad day for the owner, and quite possibly a new phone. However, on the off chance you’ve found a phone that’s related to demonic possession, the odds are your day isn’t going to be much better–and, in fact, it will probably be much worse. Let’s find out, shall we, in the final film of Horror Month 2019!

The Film:

Wounds

The Premise:

After a patron leaves a phone at a New Orleans bar, bartender Will begins experiencing sinister happenings.

The Ramble:

As the preppiest-looking scruffy bartender in the world, Will (Armie Hammer) works at a dive bar with some rather colorful patrons. Regular at the bar Alicia is throwing back a drink most nights along with boyfriend Jeffrey. Though Will has a live-in girlfriend attending Tulane, he has a much keener interest in Alicia’s comings and goings.

One eventful evening, a cockroach skitters across the bar–in the end, only mildly disgusting compared to what will happen that night. When a fight breaks out between bar fly Eric and a stranger, poor Eric ends up with a broken bottle to the face. Though seriously injured, both patrons clear out of the bar before the cops arrive. Also sent running are a group of underage teens who Will has taken pity on.

In their haste, one of the teens leaves a phone behind. When the number receives a series of messages pleading for help from a demonic force, Will responds with annoyance, assuming the teens are playing a prank.

The next day, girlfriend Carrie discovers the phone, which now features some disturbing images and videos of people who seem to have been tortured to death. Already a strained relationship to begin with, the phone creates additional tension between the couple. Carrie suspects Will has something to hide, and Will is extremely jealous of one of Carrie’s professors.

While Will promises to take the phone to the police, he continues to respond to the messages received. When he finally does head to the station to hand over the evidence, Will has a vision of cockroaches pouring from the phone, tossing it out of the window, and thus destroying any proof he had of sinister happenings. None of this happens before he receives the ominous message that he has been “chosen.”

Frustrated, creeped out, and more than a little lonely, Will convinces Alicia to go out for a night of drinking. Though Will is ready to pursue a physical relationship with Alicia, both are involved with other people, and Alicia pumps the brakes. Will’s night takes a sinister turn when he receives creepy videos from Carrie. When he returns home, Carrie is in a zombie-like trance and has no recollection of anything happening. Carrie does snap out of this pretty quickly except for occasionally muttering about how we’re all just worms.

Soon after, Will begins acting more and more like an asshole: losing his temper at the bar, screaming at his boss, giving zero fucks about the poor health of bottle-to-the-face Eric, and breaking up with Carrie. Of course, when Will breaks the news to Alicia, she still wants nothing to do with him; thus, he becomes even more of a douche.

With nowhere to go, Will reunites with the injured Eric. However, instead of a welfare check, Will is fully prepared to be Eric’s new roommate for…reasons?

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

“Oh, great,” I imagine Armie Hammer saying to himself upon reading the script, “one of those clever horror films in the vein of The Babadook or Jordan Peele’s films. What a brilliant career move; people love Daniel Kaluuya!”

Imagine Armie’s dismay when he ended up starring in this disappointing film, which is neither particularly clever nor overly horrific (except in all of the bad ways).

For real, I did not get this film. I found the pacing to be quite poor, as I was bored out of my skull for almost the entire run time, then surprised by a rather action-packed ending that just left me confused.

I also think virtually everyone here was miscast, though a terrible script certainly didn’t do anyone favors. Armie Hammer isn’t believable to me as a washed-up underachiever; he looks more like the kind of person who would always have family to bail him out. I could just be prejudiced against conventionally handsome blonde dudes, IDK.

To top this off, this film was set and shot in New Orleans, but there was absolutely no sense of place. I felt the film could have been shot anywhere for all of the swampy, haunted ambience we got–aka none. I thought there may be a connection between the creepy happenings of the film and Hurricane Katrina (that would be a compelling explanation, no?), but the script does not take advantage of this.

The main problem for me is this lack of meaning and direction; there seems to be a demon threatening to take over Will and his life. Is it a manifestation of his loveless romance with Carrie? A symptom of his failure to pursue the life he wanted? A stand-in for a developing addiction to alcohol? In this film in particular, the lack of meaning simply makes Will look like your run of the mill asshole. Are you sure you’re suffering from demonic possession there, buddy, or are you just an incel who thinks the world owes you something as a mediocre white man?

I will give this film credit for an accurate representation of millennials being chased by demonic forces: we will always text a friend instead of calling for help. No one wants to get the cops involved, and absolutely no one wants to talk on the phone to a stranger.

Would my haunting blog wife buy this one a shot or conveniently “lose her phone” when it tries to call? Read her review here to find out!

Film Reviews

Checking out the Film: Halloween Edition

‘Tis the season to watch horror films for free from under a mountain of fleecy blankets. Is there any other way to watch a creepy movie? This is a special Halloween edition of Checking out the Film, short reviews of recent library check-outs.

Title

Demon

Director

Marcin Wrona

Format

Streaming (Hoopla)

Review

Nothing’s more fun than a wedding, right? Wrong–in so many, many ways. Especially so when you’ve recently uncovered a body (and rapidly buried it again) on the plot of land where you’re building a house for your bride-to-be. Worse still when this land belongs to her family, so you have very literally discovered the skeletons they were hiding.

For Piotr, his wedding in small town Poland goes from bad to worse when the spirit of the deceased possesses him in this tale of a dybbuk from Jewish mythology. The concept works chillingly well as the spirit is that of a Jewish woman who mysteriously vanished from the village long ago in the late 1930s. This is very much a slow burn that could have used a bit more intrigue early on, but quite an original concept for a horror film.

Who Should Watch

People who can’t imagine anything worse than the last wedding they attended. It can always be worse.

Title

Creature from the Black Lagoon

Director

Jack Arnold

Format

Streaming (Hoopla)

Review

It’s that time of the year for a holiday classic about a swimmer in a fish man costume. After scientists take a trip down the Amazon in search of wildlife there, they encroach on the natural habitat of a creature who hasn’t changed in thousands of years. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the creature is less than stoked when the humans hang around and chuck a few spears in its direction, though it’s quite ok with essential lady assistant Kay hanging around.

I’m going to be honest–to me, this doesn’t hold up as a horror classic. It’s not even campy or melodramatic enough to be entertaining. There are just endless shots of dudes swimming around underwater, which was probably quite advanced at the time, but isn’t visually thrilling in black and white. And for all of the classic posters of Kay being abducted by the creature, she’s in its clutches for less than a minute of this film’s run time. Is that an odd complaint about a film–not enough abduction? I do appreciate the aquatic take on Frankenstein here, and the early environmental messages.

Who Should Watch

Al Gore.

Title

Child’s Play (2019)

Director

Lars Kievberg

Format

DVD

Review

In this 21st century update of the horror franchise, Chucky is a smart doll who controls electronics and learns from the world around him. Surely nothing could go wrong when a refurbished model of the doll sits through The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and listens to pre-teen Andy talk about his hatred for his mom’s boyfriend…right? Aubrey Plaza, kindred spirit and horror star of my dreams, plays Andy’s mom, who has terrible taste in men and struggles to make ends meet. Her life is about to get much more difficult when Chucky develops a mind of his own.

While quite fun, this film feels like an extended episode of Goosebumps, but with more swearing. The concept for the update is a good one, but Chucky is never going to be as gleefully gory as in the days when he was the spirit of a serial killer trapped in the body of a doll. I honestly think some of the recent films in the Child’s Play franchise of old have been more entertaining in their willingness to embrace B-movie absurdity. Not a bad use of time, but not especially memorable.

Who Should Watch

People who can stomach a significant amount of violence against cats.

Title

Hereditary

Director

Ari Aster

Format

Streaming (Kanopy)

Review

Following the death of her emotionally abusive mother, Annie’s life begins to unravel in unexpected ways. After a horrific accident, Annie’s worst nightmare comes true: she behaves more and more like her mother. Seeking to connect with the dead, Annie turns to a kindly member of her support group who claims to speak with her deceased grandson regularly. When she manages to communicate with spirits, it’s unclear whether Annie is experiencing an otherworldly power or the same delusions that tortured her mother.

As noted many times, Toni Collette gives a brilliant, genuinely chilling performance here; in fact, I don’t think you can fault any of the performances. The disturbing images and experiences of the characters match the film’s ambitious messages about the curse of genetics and family inheritance. Though I find the end to be a bit too clever in its attempt at a dramatic twist, the conclusion has a horrific sensation of inevitability. Truly one of the good ones.

Who Should Watch

People who have ever considered having children of their own. Rethink this IMMEDIATELY.

What horrors have you witnessed this month? Ideally on film, but feel free to share your truth.

Header photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

We Have Always Lived in the Castle, or: Lord Help the Mister Who Comes Between Me and My Sister

It is Halloween Month(!), so the time feels right for an adaptation of a classic by master of horror Shirley Jackson. Brilliantly creating an atmosphere of dread, especially in her haunted old mansions, will this film uphold her high standards or will we have to say sorry to Ms. Jackson after this week?

The Film:

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

The Premise:

The sudden arrival of their cousin disrupts the isolated lives of sisters shunned from a small town after a tragic evening several years prior.

The Ramble:

In the 1960s, sisters Merricat and Constance Blackwood live with their uncle Julian in the family estate, where (surprise, surprise) they have always lived. The wealthiest family in the area, whose mansion stands subtly looking down on the entire town, the Blackwoods’ popularity reached an all-time low six years ago when several family members were poisoned.

Though Uncle Julian survived, he was confined to a wheelchair following the poisonings and became disconnected from reality through his obsession with the events that happened that evening. While Constance was accused but acquitted of murder, the townspeople remain deeply suspicious of the Blackwoods, contributing to her terror of leaving the estate. Merricat is the only member of the family who ventures into town, collecting library books and groceries for the remaining Blackwoods. When she goes out, Merricat is followed by wary glances and nasty children’s rhymes about the night of the murders.

Though isolated, Merricat is content with Constance for her best and only friend. She reveals how far she will take things to keep the band together when she breaks up Constance and her fireman boyfriend. With an ever-increasing feeling that a big change is coming, Merricat performs protective rituals including burying objects belonging to her late father.

When cousin Charles arrives unannounced, it appears Merricat’s predictions of a change on the horizon have come to fruition. Though Constance and Julian welcome the opportunity to speak with a non-Merricat family member, Merricat remains apprehensive. (Plus the cat is getting bad vibes from Charles here; never a good sign.)

After Charles discovers Merricat’s penchant for burying valuables belonging to her father, he becomes upset with the wasteful practice. When Merricat directly asks Charles to leave, he refuses–and, in fact, deliberately antagonizes her. Add to this the weird cousin love vibes between Charles and Constance, and Merricat is feeling downright threatened. As their feud escalates, it seems increasingly likely yet another Blackwood will end up dead.

Just as Merricat and Charles get into a dramatic physical altercation, a lit pipe sets the house ablaze. While many of the townsfolk gather to witness the blaze, Uncle Julian refuses to leave, and Charles desperately attempts to salvage valuables from the home.

How will the sisters, having endured so much, battle fire, disreputable relations, and an angry mob?

The Rating (with spoilers):

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

I’m going to be that amateur film critic and start out by saying the book is infinitely better. Shirley Jackson’s novel is genuinely creepy, suspenseful, and surprising. This film adaptation lacks the subtlety and ambience that makes the novel so successful. I have a difficult time believing that anyone who watches this will be shocked by the revelation that Merricat has secrets to hide about the poisonings because she acts like such a creep throughout the entire film.

Add to this the elements of the film that are unintentionally hilarious, and the tone feels quite uneven. I love Crispin Glover, but his turn as Uncle Julian is not convincing, and some of his lines–“We all deserve to die, don’t we?” especially stands out–brought on laughter when they should have been eerie. Julian mistaking Charles for the murdered Blackwood patriarch is also much funnier than it’s supposed to be.

The themes here are extremely Shirley Jackson, with no one being especially likeable. The Blackwoods are incredibly elitist, and there’s no love lost between the sisters and their parents. Charles has the power to be an ally to his family, but in the end is as manipulative as Merricat suspects him to be. I don’t even know where to begin with the townsfolk, whose cruelty and hypocrisy are unmatched and unwarranted–especially considering they know so little of the truth behind the Blackwood murders.

However, I remember Merricat being a more sympathetic character in the novel as we get more insight into how her mind works (though she is, as in the film, an unreliable narrator). This could be down to my having read the book in my teens or early 20s, and therefore possessing a considerably greater amount of patience for a moody teen. Who knows? It could be a perfect time to revisit the book and find out.

Would my swingin’ ’60s blog wife stay in this castle or sling angry taunts in its general direction? Find out in her review here!